June 26, 2019 | 82° F

LANDINGIN: Activists must do more than share hashtags

Opinions Column: A Sophisticated Tho(ugh)t

"KONY 2012" marked the rise of social media awareness campaigns. Subsequently, when a crisis gains enough attention, people would change their Facebook profile pictures to draw attention to an issue or to show solidarity for marginalized communities, a social media practice that’s still done today. With the emergence of social media activism, critics say that civic engagement has deteriorated into the limited engagement in the social media sphere, which is called slacktivism. Oxford dictionary defines it as: “Actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g. signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website or application.” But in a time where much of our attention is spent in digital spaces, digital activism is both potentially effective and necessary.

After the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida, the creation of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter became an online forum that connects black people and allies together in the fight against anti-blackness. Even though the movement is much more than its hashtag, its user-generated content brought awareness about the dehumanization of black lives in the United States by continuously revealing dominant media’s biased news reporting and misrepresentation of marginalized groups rooted in corporate interest and white supremacy. As long as the issues persist, the hashtag will live on.

Social media becomes a space where people share their truths of what’s really going on around the United States and beyond. Aggregating posts of personal truths in a hashtag reveals the subjectivity of objective truths.

What is being shared online become artifacts of various ways of political engagement -- social media not only brings issues to our awareness, but also demonstrates what community organizers are doing about these issues within their communities, such as the update-to-update streams of links to the struggles of water protectors at Standing Rock. This kind of sharing becomes an opportunity for people who may not be able to physically demonstrate solidarity to work together with on-the-ground community organizers on what they can do to help out, may it be monetarily or through other forms actions.

With immigration laws as a cornerstone of his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming presidency means a larger threat of deportation for undocumented students and their families.

This spurred a mass movement of students staging walkouts and demonstrations across the nation demanding their universities become "sanctuary campuses" for undocumented immigrants. At Rutgers, Movimento Cosecha, an immigrants rights movement, played a huge role in organizing students and workers to demand the university to become a sanctuary campus.

Under the hashtag #SanctuaryCampus, organizers can see the scope of the movement while using this online forum as a source of strength to mobilize our local communities.

When skillfully done, social media makes physically organizing people easier and faster. The hashtag becomes the linchpin for a large movement of people’s voices and for countless records of direct action activism. It helps flood people’s newsfeeds, pushes supporters to be more engaged and brings this issue to media attention from the likes of CNN and NJ.com.

Keeping in mind how online activism can fall into the traps of ineffective online petitions or just a profile change, it becomes important for community organizers to use social media intentionally, strategically and with goals beyond awareness, because historically, the most effective forms of civil disobedience are when people put their bodies on the line.

So here are examples of effective digital activism:

OH CRAP! WHAT NOW? SURVIVAL GUIDE: A crowdsourced collection of health, legal and safety plans, and resources for social, digital and economic security after the outcome of the recent U.S. election. A digital list of pro-women, pro-immigrant and pro-earth organizations to donate to. A digital calling sheet giving an easy how-to guide for constituents to participate in weekly call-to-actions to demand representatives to represent our concerns. What all these forms of activism have in common is that they require fellow activists and supporters to go beyond click-activism and provide central resources and information for them to make their activism more purposeful, which makes decentralized movements more effective.

And by clicking on a hashtag, we get to have the instant opportunity to understand how movements, such as #NoDAPL, #FlintMichigan, #blacklivesmatter, #educationnotdeportation, #reprojustice and #climatechange are interconnected in their struggles. As activist Audre Lorde said in an address commemorating Malcolm X at Harvard University called, “Learning from the 60s,” “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives. Malcolm knew this. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew this. Our struggles are particular, but we are not alone.”

Rae Landingin is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies with minors in art history and digital, communication, information and media. Her column, “A Sophisticated Tho(ugh)t,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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Rae Landingin

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